October 23, 2017

The Pope Needs a Business Meeting

Someone sent me this Rick Warren quote, and it’s buggin’ me.

When I write about Rick Warren, I’m usually not taking issue with the content of the guy’s books or the value of his accomplishments. I’m a voice in the wilderness ranting about cookie-cutter-consumeristic idolatry in evangelicalism, so I’ve had my fun with Mr. Warren’s apparent elevation by the powers that be to the level of Pope Rick I. But I’ve not had much comment about what he’s actually said.

But this one bothers me.

Rick’s Rules of Growth…. Third, never criticize what God is blessing, even though it may be a style of ministry that makes you feel uncomfortable.” [PDC, page 62, bold and italics mine.]

I’ve thought about it for most of a day, and I’ve decided what the new Pope of evangelicalism needs is one of the great traditions of the Southern Baptist church of yore: the business meeting.

I grew up in one of those Southern Baptist churches that practiced the extreme sport of “business meetings.” Now there are a number of ways to play this game, but we played the rodeo version. It was dangerous, and we liked it that way. No nodding acquiescence to endless committee reports for us. This was blood on the floor time.

A business meeting at our church was an opportunity to gripe, moan, whine, insinuate, criticize, carp, ridicule, assassinate, threaten, lie, cry, faint, pontificate, filibuster and commit acts of violence, all with the best interests of God’s kingdom and Christ’s church at heart. People who silently endured abuse from their employers and torment from their spouses came to business meetings to get it all out on the table. The lions may have eaten the Christians in the first century, but the Christians were doing the entertainment via dismemberment in these meetings.

In some churches, the pastor was the “moderator” of this circus, but we would have none of that. In our business meetings, the pastor was reduced to one of the little people, and a layman- usually a deranged deacon (before the invention of psychiatric medications)- would run the show. His goal was simple: whip the congregation into a frenzy that would frighten the pastor into mumbling, terrorized submission to the members of various ruling clans. If the pastor needed to be tied to a chair, that could be arranged.

The moderator wasn’t the only special person at these outings. The business meeting crowd was a unique gathering of humanity in and of itself. This kind of fun wasn’t for everyone.

There were those folks who never missed a church meeting, even if their child was expiring in an ER somewhere. Next to them were the big givers, who were going to make sure that every penny of God’s money ended up exactly where they wanted it to go. You had your detail fanatics; the kind of people who knew how much a pencil cost by the gram, how much it cost to heat the ladies bathroom in the choir room, and last year’s per capita usage of toilet tissue by the sheet and by age group. Of course, there were folks who just showed up to gawk and see what happened next. The same people who hang around automobile accidents and freak shows.

What we needed were lawyers, therapist, referees and people who could give sedatives to the unruly, but those folks never seemed to show up.

In special circumstances, you were allowed to bring in extra congregation members, but it had to be a major occasion. Voting on the budget always filled up a few pews IF the staff was getting a raise. Youth ministry related votes- like permission to paint the youth room as a gigantic pizza- brought out youth, parents and grandparents. And if you were fortunate enough to be around for a contentious vote on firing the pastor, building a building or- best of all- tearing down the old sanctuary, you could expect to see everyone from new born babies to the town madam with ladies and customers in tow.

My business meeting favorites were the fiery orators and extemporary instigators. These were the people who loved to stand and make speeches that sounded like we were about to vote on the dissolution of the Union. People who would never preach, teach Sunday School or witness to their coworkers would stand and argue with the devil over how much we were paying the kid who cut the grass. They knew how to inflame a crowd to violence with nothing more than last month’s budget.

This was where the pastor never knew what was coming. Could the pastor explain why we’ve sung the same invitation hymn on the four fifth Sundays of this year? Could the pastor explain why his children aren’t signed up for the 24 hour prayer-a-thon? Could the pastor explain why we consistently get out later than the Methodists, and have to wait to be seated at the local buffet? Would the pastor mind if we rescinded all his medical benefits to pay for a new transmission in the church van?

And who can explain the delights of the standard menu items of a business meeting? You just have to be there.

-The Rain Man clone who has the Sunday School statistical report honed down to an exactness far surpassing any NASA number crunchers.

-The Women’s mission committee chairperson who entertains us for twenty minutes with descriptions of the Bangla Deshi themed finger food at last month’s meeting.

-The Finance Committee chairman who seems convinced we will have to close the doors and sell the place if we don’t inherit a uranium mine.

-The Deacon Chairman who shares with us that since all this year’s nominees have declined to serve, the deacons have not only voted to install themselves for life, but are going to dig up some of the better deacons from past centuries from the church cemetery.

-The Youth Committee chairperson who assures us that the $25,000 the youth want for a trip to Tahiti will all be used for evangelism.

-The Music Committee chairman who talks us through the budget requests for this year’s Christmas pageant, explaining that just going ahead and buying five camels and ten Palestinian peasants is a lot better than renting them every year.

-The Evangelism Committee chairperson who can’t understand why weekly door to door confrontational evangelism in a crime ridden trailer park isn’t pulling in the big numbers…..or even the pastor.

Now here’s the part where I’ve been thinking about Pope Rick’s comment: New business.

New business was where you got to ask questions about whatever you wanted. The pastor had to listen. You could ask about his hot new ideas. You could ask why we threw out the hymnals. You could ask what the skateboarding ministry was actually doing. You could suggest that $500,000 for a neon message board bigger than the one at Times Square was a waste of money.

You could suggest that doing the Purpose Driven Life campaign might be something less than the next Great Awakening. And you weren’t taken away and lobotomized.

You could criticize what was going on, and it was OK. You weren’t unsupportive or unspiritual. Even if “God was blessing,” you could ask if it was Biblical, or true to the church’s purpose. You could question the pastor right there to his face, instead of dealing with one of his underlings or enforcers. And if the pastor said something stupid like “Don’t criticize what God is blessing….,” you could laugh at him right there in front of everyone.

Heck, you could even ask if he planned to ever buy decent shoes and a shirt. 🙂

New business was our church’s way of keeping the people and the leadership on common ground. It didn’t keep leaders from leading, but it didn’t put members in the position of a bobblehead doll either.

I’m totally in favor of church government by elders, but don’t get rid of some version of the business meeting. Leaders don’t slip edicts out from under a closed door. They have to listen and respond to all the nonsense. And when they are the ones serving up the nonsense, they get to listen to it. No special meetings. No monologues, no video presentations, no lectures by highly compensated outside consultants that subtly let us know our actual questions have been “dealt with in the research phase and are answered in the printed materials.”

New business lets the congregation be the people of God, and treats leaders as if they mean to emulate Jesus in leading by serving. So what if you don’t know what’s coming next? At least if it’s a three legged chicken, you’ll get to ask why we need one. And if you want hymns in worship again, you can just stand up and say so.

Pope Rick is hailed as the Southern Baptist icon of the new millennium. From his pontifical chair, he assures us that God told him, God led him, God blessed him, so buy the book, the CD, the tape, the video and get the live feed. Don’t wait for your turn to talk. It’s not coming. Not from Pope Rick. Not from his underlings. Not from his denominational promoters. Not from the people making millions off Purpose-Driven products. You’re supposed to sit quietly and nod on cue. It’s so wonderful. Feel the love. Take the pill. Be assimilated. Accept the chip in your…..wait a minute. This is getting out of hand!

I say if he can’t stomach an old fashioned Southern Baptist business meeting, he’s a wimp. Face the people, including the thoughtful, reasonable critics with tough questions, and let them say whatever they want. If they want to criticize “what God is blessing,” maybe God is telling you you’re wrong.

Here’s to the day when the Purpose Driven churches end the spin and hype,quit hiding behind all this CEO bullying, and have a business meeting that lasts all night, where plenty of obnoxious people criticize the dubious suggestion that “what God is blessing,” i.e. what the pastor wants, is beyond criticism.

If you run a bus, I’ll be there with a lunch.

(This commentary will soon be found at www.interrnetmonk.com, along with way too much other stuff of a similar bent.- MS)

Comments

  1. Worse still is how the PPope knows “God is blessing.” It’s because lots of people show up! Apparently God is blessing the Dallas Cowboys, too, because they’ve sold out every game for years and years and years. No criticism allowed!

    The Anglicans do things different. Department heads are given X minutes for their reports and must each answer questions from the floor, while the rector (pastor) has his own Q&A time. All very civilized. Not as much fun as the ones from my childhood. 🙂